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AMERICAN MORNING

Maersk Alabama Captain Attempts Escape, Pirates Recapture as Hostage; Two Additional Warships En Route to Aid Maersk Alabama; Wild Fires, Tornadoes Destroy Homes, Buildings and Whole Towns in Midwest; Economists Predicting Recession to End September 2009

Aired April 10, 2009 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And we're coming up on the top of the hour right now. Welcome once again to AMERICAN MORNING. It's Friday, April 10th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes, sitting in today for John Roberts.

CHETRY: Well, we have a lot to get to this morning. We're breaking down stories for you over the next 15 minutes, including more American warships on the way now to the waters of Somalia, where the captain of the U.S. cargo ship is still being held by pirates. FBI negotiators are trying to secure the release of Captain Richard Phillips, who has been held hostage now on a 28-foot lifeboat since Wednesday.

High winds fanning the flames of intense wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas. In Midwest City, Oklahoma, an estimated 100 homes and buildings have been damaged. Fires have actually devastated two small towns in Texas. Firefighters doing their best to try to save these homes and keep people safe, but much of the region has been dealing with a drought as well.

World markets surging overnight following stronger than expected U.S. earnings reports. Asian markets closing higher, and European markets opening on a positive note. The U.S. Stock Exchange and other American markets are closed today for Good Friday.

And now to a still developing story off the coast of Africa. As we just reported, more U.S. warships are on the way to help convince Somali pirates to give up and release the U.S. cargo ship captain they're holding hostage. The pirates tried to hijack the ship, Maersk Alabama, on Wednesday. The crew, though, using brute force as it's been described, was able to take that vessel back. They were not armed.

The Alabama is now on its way to Kenya. It was on a humanitarian mission dropping off food aid and it's continuing on that.

Meantime, the armed pirates managed to leave the ship using a lifeboat and the captain with them is said to be unharmed, but supplies on this lifeboat as well may be running out.

With the very latest on this story, we go to our Barbara Starr who is near the U.S. Navy headquarters in Bahrain. This is something you will see only on CNN. Barbara is the only reporter with this kind of access this morning.

What is the update that you've been getting from the Navy about these other warships coming to the region?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, there are other Navy warships going to the coast of Somalia for two reasons -- to make a show of force against the pirates and to try and help get Captain Phillips back to freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Vice Admiral William Gortney, the top U.S. naval commander in the Middle East, stepped out of his command center in Bahrain to give CNN an exclusive update on the piracy crisis off the coast of Somalia.

VICE ADM. WILLIAM GORTNEY, COMMANDER, U.S. NAVY FIFTH FLEET: The four pirates are currently in the lifeboat of that vessel with the master.

STARR: For the first time, a U.S. Navy warship is negotiating with ragtag Somali pirates hoping to win the release of Captain Richard Phillips of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama.

GORTNEY: We have USS Bainbridge on station currently negotiating with the pirates to get our American citizen back.

STARR: FBI negotiators are assisting. Gortney makes clear this pirate attack is a potential security crisis.

GORTNEY: Yes, we've always thought that one of the potential game changers out there is the U.S. flag vessel with U.S. citizens onboard. And we're there and that's where we are right now.

STARR: Gortney is putting more naval power into this area off the southeastern coast of Somalia where attacks have risen in recent days.

GORTNEY: We have been moving forces in that direction.

STARR: And while the pirates still appear to be poorly armed, there is a new grim concern about the Somali clans.

GORTNEY: We're just seeing that they are communicating. And with communication comes -- could possibly come coordination and cooperation with each other.

STARR: Gortney is pressuring the commercial shipping industry to take more steps to protect merchant ships warning the military cannot protect an area four times the size of Texas.

GORTNEY: Just earlier this week, we had two instances, unsuccessful piracy attacks as pirates couldn't get onboard because those two ships had put barbed wire on the areas where most likely it broaches for the pirates to get onboard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So, of course, what the Navy is doing now is monitoring all radio communications in the area. They do believe there are other pirate ships in the region. They're going to, of course, keep them from coming anywhere near this situation.

Military sources tell us the warships, they will provide that military presence but they also will critically be available with medical care onboard for when Captain Phillips gets out to freedom if he needs medical attention -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. And we have developments on the story changing radically, so stick with us this morning. Barbara Starr in Bahrain, thank you.

Meanwhile, we're waiting a word on the fate of the ship's captain. Friends and family of the Alabama's crew say they are relieved that their loved ones are currently heading out of harm's way under a U.S. military escort.

The fiancee of one of the crew members spoke to our affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER, WPVI: How are you holding up tonight?

HEATHER GUARDINELLI, FIANCEE OF CREW MEMBER JOHN CRONAN: We're tired. We're tired. We certainly feel good and better that he's safe. We know he's safe and on his way home.

It feels like a dream. You know, you keep thinking it can't possibly be happening. And, you know, you just have to keep going because otherwise I feel like I can't breathe.

When he came home and told me that he had got in this ship, you know, I did not want him to go. I did not want him to go, and we had discussed this. And he promised me that he was going to come home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Because we heard about the hijacking, the pirates out there are stopping us. Why didn't you want him to go?

GUARDINELLI: Yes. Yes, I didn't want him in that part of the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: And we'll continue to follow this developing story from every angle. And less than 10 minutes, we'll be talking with a former FBI negotiator about what tactics they used to try to secure the release from these pirates of the captain of that cargo ship --T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Kiran, another developing story we have this morning. Massive wildfires roaring through parts of Oklahoma and Texas. Hurricane-force winds quickly spreading those flames.

Take a look here at the region we're talking about that's burning.

Fire is ripping through and destroying dozens of homes and buildings in Oklahoma and Texas. The local fire marshal explains what they've been up against.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY LOJKA, MIDWEST CITY FIRE MARSHAL: We may be able to knock a fire down. And there was the wind shift or it blows sparks over into another area. And it just shoots back up like an area that we may thought, may have thinking, have thought was out prior to that time, catches the wind, catches more fuel and it comes right back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Yes, catch more wind, catch more fuel. That's what they're up against right now.

Our Ed Lavandera live on the ground in Midwest City, Oklahoma right now.

Ed, we talked to you a little earlier kind of waiting for daybreak there to see just how bad it is. Not quite daybreak yet, but it's probably going to tell the story in a much different way than we can even see right now.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, T.J. A couple of things. What they are looking at is that daybreak to come so they can get some aerial support up into the air, start dumping buckets of water on areas that might need that to help battle these flames.

They feel like they've got it mostly under control across the state. But the problem at this point, this morning, that the wind gusts are still howling about 30 to 40 miles per hour in certain parts. So that could continue to be the problem here throughout the morning. And, of course, many of these homes like the one you see behind me are still smoldering. So embers from here can pick up and continue to burn. That's what they're worried about this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Across Texas and Oklahoma, crews raced from fire to fire, kept on their toes by winds that at times reached hurricane-force.

JERRY LOJKA, FIRE CHIEF, MIDWEST CITY, OKLAHOMA: We can't get ahead of it. When you have gusts to 40 miles an hour and there is brush involved, it picks those embers up. It creates a fireball that lifts it over the top of us and carries at a quarter of a mile past us.

LAVANDERA: At least five towns in Oklahoma were ordered evacuated as the flames swept across the dry flatlands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking. It happened so fast.

LAVANDERA: The massive fires, some stretching for six miles, also forced parts of Interstate 35 to be shut down. Firefighters from dozens of agencies tapped into pools and creeks to keep the water flowing and worked alongside bulldozers to create fire lines. And despite warnings to clear out, some residents stayed behind to join the fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just started running buckets to the place behind us trying to help the firefighters.

LAVANDERA: The struggle and the size and speed of devastation taking a toll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a long day.

LAVANDERA: By nightfall, more than a hundred homes have been lost, many more damaged. But the fires were so widespread and moving so fast that firefighters were struggling to get a grip on the extent of the damage.

In some areas where the fire had moved on, residents got a firsthand look at what the flames left behind. And the work that lies ahead for them and their neighbors, some of whom don't yet know what awaits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's deployed. He's serving our country right now, and he's got to come home to this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: T.J., across the state of Oklahoma, several dozen people injured including one firefighter near Stillwater, Oklahoma, which is north of Oklahoma City, who suffered third degree burns over 35 percent of his body. We understand he is in critical condition in a hospital this morning.

So very treacherous situations, dangerous situations still remain as these winds continue to howl rather intensely here across the state. And that's what authorities around here are hoping that these winds will start to die down and that will really make them feel secure that they've gotten everything under control -- T.J.

HOLMES: And we certainly wish that firefighter, all those firefighters and the people of that community the best.

Ed Lavandera for us in Midwest City. Ed, we appreciate you.

Meanwhile, more extreme weather in Arkansas to tell you about. A tornado tore through the small town of Mena that's near the Oklahoma City line, killing at least three people, we know of now, and damaging more than a hundred homes. This twister hit the county hospital, city hall, the library, the courthouse, which houses the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center. Authorities going door-to-door now to see if everybody is all right.

Our Rob Marciano in the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

Rob, the same weather system that kind of caused problems there in Arkansas, it's not quite done wreaking havoc?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, it's not and we expect more severe weather today. We'll zoom into the area that got hit the hardest yesterday. That is Mena, Arkansas. One of 24 tornado reports, this one in this town and once the sun comes up, we'll see what the damage is like.

It came through right around sunset last night and obviously it looked like it was a bad one. So that's just part of the weather story. Obviously, the wind, the other part.

Here's some of the numbers are far as where the winds are blowing, 20 to 25 miles an hour. I want to show some pictures out of Texas because they're also the state that got hit hard with some of these fires.

Look at how the wind is blowing the flames and that black smoke. I mean, it was blowing big time yesterday and at time gusting to 70 or 75 miles an hour.

Check out some of these numbers. Frederick, Oklahoma, 76 mile- an-hour wind gusts. That's over hurricane strength. Freedom, Oklahoma, 72 mile-an-hour wind gusts. And we have some dynamics with this system that came out of the Rockies. We certainly did with the winds across the plains.

The winds will die down today behind the system. That will help firefighters but probably not until this afternoon. Later on today, this thing gets into the southeast. And we do have a moderate risk of seeing more in the way of severe weather that could bring some isolated tornadoes and large hail and strong winds right on through tonight across parts of the more populated southeast.

Kiran, back up to you.

CHETRY: We'll continue to track that with you throughout the morning, Rob. Thanks so much.

We have some breaking news right now. Let's get to our Barbara Starr who's in Bahrain with Navy commanders there. A word of a possible escape attempt by the captain being held by those pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Barbara, what are you finding out?

STARR: Well, Kiran, a U.S. official has confirmed to CNN that sometime last night Captain Phillips, the merchant seaman being held by the four pirates off Somalia, tried to make a break for freedom, tried to get away from the Somali pirates holding him on the small lifeboat. By all accounts, this is the U.S. understanding of what happened that Captain Phillips jumped into the water and tried to swim to freedom, obviously trying to make it to the USS Bainbridge, standing on station. That would have been his closest method of getting to freedom.

He did not make it. He is fine. Apparently, by all accounts, the reports are that the pirate jumped into the water and recaptured him. A piece of optimistic news according to this official is the pirates did not hurt him, that he is fine.

There is a good indication that he is OK after he was recaptured by the pirates. We can also tell you that the U.S. military which has been flying aircraft overhead has crew onboard the Bainbridge. There is imagery that the Pentagon is not releasing due to the sensitivity of this situation giving them a good picture of what is going on with the lifeboat.

There is certainly an ability to monitor some of the communications in the area. The pirates have satellite phones by all accounts in the U.S. This would be no secret. It is well understood and well known that there's an ability to monitor those kinds of communications.

So, just to circle back, confirming that Captain Phillips tried to make a break for freedom, jumped into the water. But the pirates recaptured him. By all accounts, it is the U.S. understanding at this hour that he is OK -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And is anybody talking to you at all even privately about whether or not these tangles negotiations make things more difficult?

STARR: Well, I can tell you that the official we spoke to says they take it as an optimistic sign that they believe at this hour -- and I must, you know, say the reports are sketchy, but they have every reason to believe that he is fine, that he was not harmed by these pirates after he was taken back. So I think at this point the most that could be said is the people involved in this situation believe that is a very optimistic sign.

But it's probably very important to underscore the sensitivity of this. His family is watching this hour-by-hour, and nobody wants to say anything or put a foot wrong that would make the situation more difficult than it already is --- Kiran.

CHETRY: Certainly understood. Barbara Starr for us this morning. Thank you.

HOLMES: And getting that news there, let's go ahead and bring in a former FBI negotiator, hostage negotiator. The name is Chris Voss.

Chris Voss, sir, we appreciate you being here. Listening to some of this, we know these intense negotiations have been going on and now the hostage, it sounds like, the reports are, that he tried to get away. As a negotiator now, would this complicate things in any way if you were the one out there negotiating with these guys?

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR, FBI: No, not particularly. The hostage takers really don't blame a hostage for trying to get away. They would do the same thing if they were in his place.

Captain Phillips has obviously shown himself to be a resilient and courageous man. So they probably respect him a little bit for trying this. As far as the negotiators go, they'll continue to talk to the hostage takers, the pirates in this case. And they'll be able to deal with this. They'll work their way through this, and it will be fine.

HOLMES: But as a negotiator, not exactly that you could get a message if you will to that hostage. You don't know exactly what he is going through. And like you said, you can't blame him for trying to get away. But would that be something almost that a negotiator or that the authorities would encourage? If you see a break, go for it?

VOSS: Well, we would always -- if they were to try to escape, the best way to escape is simply to try to get away, not to escape through violence. They just run away, walk away, to swim away, whatever the situation might be. And it sounds to me that this is exactly what Captain Phillips did in this case. So any hostage that comes out, any light that comes out is always a good sign.

HOLMES: And again, to reiterate to our viewers, news just in to us this morning is that, in fact, Captain Phillips who is being held on that lifeboat by those pirates off the coast of Somalia did make an attempt to get away, tried to swim away. However, he was recaptured. We do understand he is still all right, hasn't been harmed but he did try to get away.

Again speaking with Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator. So, as time goes by in this whole standoff, is that -- is time a friend or foe of a negotiator? As time goes by, is that helpful or hurtful to what a negotiator is trying to do?

VOSS: Well, time is on the negotiator's side, in this case in particular. Clearly, the pirates don't have anywhere to go.

There are a lot of issues that the negotiators will be dealing with as they work their way through this, one of which is how often to have contact, whether or not to let the pirates sleep in this period of time. You want them to wear them out, but the same time you need them to stay rational enough to know that there's really nowhere for them to go. So time is on the negotiators' side but there are a number of different things that they have to balance at the same time.

HOLMES: All right. Well, a lot of things going on out there on those waters off the coast, 300 miles, we understand, off the coast.

Chris Voss, again, former FBI hostage negotiator -- sir, we appreciate you being here. Appreciate your time and expertise.

VOSS: My pleasure, T.J. HOLMES: And let's turn back to the economy here for a moment. Has the bad economy turned a corner? We'll tell you what a top economist said and whether we should believe him.

Also, dangerous boasting from Iran. Bragging on television about the country's nuclear program. What will this do to our already shaky diplomatic relations?

It's 17 past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Who wants some good news about the economy? We all do. So listen to what Larry Summers who's the director of the White House Economic Council is predicting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I think the sense of a ball falling off a table, which is what the economy has felt like since the middle of last -- since the middle of last fall. I think that is going to -- I think we can be reasonably confident that that's going to end within the next few months. And that you'll no longer have that sense of free fall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: All right, Christine Romans joins us now with more on signs that perhaps things are getting better. You know, when we had you on yesterday, some of the economists that you talked to said, wait a minute, we're getting ahead of ourselves by saying that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And then today, some better news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel but we're still in the tunnel. And that's -- and that's the bottom line. You know, the economy is not detonating anymore, but that doesn't mean the recovery has begun.

Now, "The Wall Street Journal" survey is 53 for people who are economists, and this is what this survey of top economists think is happening here. They think the recession will end in September.

Again, this is a forecast. And forecasts have been very wrong and unpredictable. But this is what these guys are thinking -- and women. The recession will end in September and that job recovery happens in the second half of 2010. Nine out of ten economists said that the government's efforts to get the markets flowing and healed again for consumer loans and also for small business lending, that that is going to work. And 72 percent said the treasury's plan to buy up toxic assets and to boost that market again, that that will help the economy.

So, you're seeing some of these economists start to come to a consensus that, as you said, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the things that's interesting about this is when we had these surveys before, they keep pushing out their expectations for recovery, pushing it out. This time they didn't push it out. It's September. That's when they think the recession will end.

If the recession ends, then you're at the bottom and then you start to go back into recovery mode. And that's what everyone is hoping for sometime later this year.

HOLMES: But jobs are still what everybody is worrying about.

ROMANS: That's right.

HOLMES: That number -- that's not until next year.

ROMANS: That's not until next year and look, jobs are a lagging indicator, as we say. That means long after the recovery has begun, you could still see jobs being lost.

Even as we're talking about these bright spots, I'm talking to business owners who are saying I've got about eight weeks to figure out whether I'm going to stay in business. Then that would mean another round of layoffs. You know, so you've got people who are really on the edge in terms of small business owners and people who are making business decisions. Still, even though we're starting to talk about when that recovery will happen, they're dealing on a much shorter, shorter time level here.

CHETRY: And on the bright side, they're talking about some of this stimulus money making its way into local projects six weeks after the president signed it to law.

ROMANS: That's right. That's right.

CHETRY: We all lost, so hopefully that will either stem or create some more jobs.

ROMANS: Right. One of the reasons why these economists are a little more optimistic is because they think all of that stuff is going to start coming to fruition here sometime later this year.

HOLMES: Good news, though. Some good news.

ROMANS: It's a number. "The Wall Street Journal" says September.

HOLMES: It's OK. I'll take it.

ROMANS: Everybody wants to know when?

HOLMES: Yes.

ROMANS: When is the recession over? "The Wall Street Journal," the survey of economists says September. We'll see.

HOLMES: Well, hopefully that will narrow down to a day even next time we talk to you.

ROMANS: Try Labor Day. That sounds good.

HOLMES: All right. Christine, thank you so much. We'll see you again here shortly.

ROMANS: Sure.

HOLMES: Back to that horrible story, another breaking story this morning for us in Oklahoma and Texas. Winds fanning the flames of intense wildfires across Texas and Oklahoma. We'll have a live report from the heart of some of that devastation.

Also, after all he said out there on the campaign trail about it, why would the Obama administration defend the Bush administration's wire-tapping program?

That's ahead here on the Most News in the Morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour and another developing story we're tracking this morning.

Iran thumbing its nose at the United States just a day after the Obama administration said it was willing to sit down and talk. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, went on TV boasting about his country's nuclear program, the very thing the U.S. wants to stop.

Robin Wright is the author of "Dreams & Shadows." She joins us this morning from Washington.

Good to see you this morning, Robin. Thanks for being here.

ROBIN WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "DREAMS & SHADOWS": Thank you.

CHETRY: So it seems as soon as the U.S. announced it would engage in talks, meaning it would have a seat at the table under the Six-party discussions with Iran, yet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad coming out and boasting about its nuclear achievements, the higher capacity for centrifuges and also packaging fuel for the country's nuclear reactor. How do you -- how should the U.S. perceive this?

WRIGHT: Well, I think for the first time, the two countries are actually on the same page when it comes to the prospect of some kind of dialogue. But I do think the Iranians are making it clear that they are committed to having an independent nuclear energy program and they're not going to be dictated to by the outside world on this issue, because the act of enrichment itself is not illegal under the nonproliferation treaty.

The issue is what Iran intends to do long term with its program and what was it doing in the 18 years it had a secret program that ended in 2003. Some questions that have not yet been answered. But the Iranians I think are putting their position out on the table that they have no intention of giving this energy program up. CHETRY: So this, again, is the very issue that the United States as well as other countries say is a sticking point. And it also, as I said, comes on the heels of the United States saying, you know what, a change, perhaps, in policy. We're going to come to the table and we're going to be a full -- a "full participant rather than observer" in these Six-party talks with the Security Council in Germany. So where does that leave our, you know, our ability to negotiate a diplomacy?

WRIGHT: Well, it's a first step but it's clearly not going to guarantee that anything is going to work. The Iranians want far more than simply direct talks with the United States. They want to feel that this is a win/win situation for both sides. They don't want the outside world to perceive that it can dictate what Iran does. And so I think we're in for some very tough negotiations if the Iranians actually come to the table.

CHETRY: And, I guess what I'm trying to get at is where -- where do you -- where do you begin these talks? Because the United States had said before, unless we're changing our policy about that, are we going to be OK? Or do we have to come to grips with the fact that we have to be OK with Iran having a nuclear enrichment program in order to get anywhere else with this nation?

WRIGHT: I suspect down the road the United States is going to have to work with its partners at the U.N. Security Council to find a formula where Iran does have some control over its enrichment process. But the world also feels that it is not -- it will convert that program or subvert it into a weapons program. And that means very tough monitoring.

Now, whether the Iranians -- you know, finding that fine line is going to be very difficult. And I suspect that convincing Congress is going to be just as difficult as convincing the Iranians.

CHETRY: Right. And what are some -- what are some ways that Iran could show that we're a partner to be trusted? That, yes, this is a source of national pride. We want to be able to enrich uranium, but you can trust us that we're not going to attack Israel or we're not going to do anything with this in terms of nuclear proliferation.

WRIGHT: Well, there a lot of different compromises that are possible. You really need a nuclear physicist to talk about the specifics of how you would get into that, but I think Iran also can show its good intent by what it does and particularly Afghanistan and the United States is focused so heavily right now.

There are strong common interests in Afghanistan. Neither country wants the Taliban to return or for there to be create instability. And I think that, down the road, if they can create common ground in Afghanistan, then they can begin even talking about Iraq.

This is a place where -- both places where Iran has scored hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction aid as well as provided arms for some of the elements that have been attacking the United States. And I think this is a moment where the United States needs to try to figure out a way to make sure that their common ground is emphasized rather than the threat Iran feels by the presence of foreign troops on both borders.

CHETRY: Robin Wright for us, author of "Dreams and Shadows." Thanks for being with us this morning.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

HOLMES: T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Kiran, it's the bottom of the hour. Here are the morning's top stories.

The American captain tried to make a break for it this morning. He tried to swim away from the lifeboat where he's being held by pirates. He was recaptured, however, by those pirates but reportedly he was not hurt. Somali pirates have been holding the captain hostage since a failed attempt to hijack his ship this week. The FBI is now negotiating for the captain's release this while more U.S. warships are heading to the scene. We know at least one is already on the scene.

Billed as silver lining in the current economic crisis, President Obama is encouraging Americans to refinance their homes now. The president said it's a perfect time for Americans to take advantage of near record low mortgage rates but he reminded people to watch out for some of those scam artists out there.

Also, three people are dead, more than 100 homes damaged after a tornado ripped through the town of Mena, Arkansas last night. The downtown area was hit hard, including the city hall, the courthouse, the hospitals as well. National guard troops are on the way.

Our other developing story this morning - dry conditions, high winds fanning the flames of intense wild fires in Texas and Oklahoma. Several communities have been devastated and at least 34 people have been hurt. Some people describing it as a war zone as the fires continue to burn.

Let's go now to Erin Guy, our CNN affiliate KOCO standing by in Choctaw, Oklahoma with the very latest for us.

Tell us here first, Erin, do they have a handle - the firefighters, on the fires that lead to that particular area? They think they're getting the upper hand there?

ERIN GUY, KOCO CORRESPONDENT: They do. Here in Choctaw, east of Oklahoma City, we're in the command center in Choctaw High School, they do have a control on them.

And take a look here. Take a look behind me. You can see here this is the command center, they have a control on it. However, that doesn't mean there aren't structures burning.

Right now, they're going back hitting hot spots. In fact, they had to pass homes in order to control the fire line. That was the big issue. So now they're going back and making sure they can put all of the flames out. So it's all about a mop up period now. Now a much different story hours ago. Families forced from their homes into shelters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They blew up by your house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm the yellow house.

GUY (voice-over): Cars lined up and families frantically rushing to safety, all trying to avoid this. This woman had to pack her children in the back seat. All while trying to move forward in disbelief.

WILLIAM EARLEY, RESIDENT: I - I looked out my back window and noticed that my yard was on fire.

GUY: For William Earley, it wasn't about getting out, it was about protecting not only his property but his neighbor's as well.

EARLEY: I sure couldn't stand by and let someone's house just burn if I could do something about it.

GUY: He worked to spray this yard while watching out of the corner of his eye - another neighbor's home burned to the ground.

EARLEY: I pray to God they got out.

GUY: Choctaw's mayor says while the damage is something they never could have expected, with a look from sky 5, it's hard to believe, but he says it could have been much worse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUY: Now, let me just tell you, I've been talking to firefighters out here and they are beyond exhausted. They've been coming back here getting pizza and water and then heading back out. I think we're going to know a lot more once the sun comes out this morning.

I talked to the mayor and like I said there, he said that it's bad, but he said it could have been a lot worse if it wasn't for the hard work of all these firefighters out here.

We're live in Choctaw, Oklahoma. Back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Erin Guy for us from our affiliate KOCO. Erin, we appreciate you this morning.

CHETRY: Well, the other story new this morning. Japan taking its own action to punish North Korea for last weekend's rocket launch. It's renewing economic sanctions that were put into place after a 2006 missile test and making them even stronger. The Obama administration making a drastic policy change in national security. CIA director Leon Panetta says that those secret overseas prisons are now empty and will be closed for good. An e-mail to agency employees, Panetta also said that contractors will no longer be hired to handle interrogation.

And President Obama showing his confidence in the American auto industry. He says that the government will buy more than 17,000 new fuel efficient vehicles from GM, Chrysler, and Ford by June 1st. This was in the economic stimulus package. It will cost taxpayers roughly $285 million.

HOLMES: It has been one of the most anticipated appointments of the Obama administration. The selection of the first dog, I'm talking about here, for Sasha and Malia. So far, that hasn't happen.

President Obama recently told Jay Leno that his daughters would have their dog by now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Now when is the dog coming? I keep hearing about the dog. It seems to me - when is the dog supposed to be there?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The dog will be there shortly. We have actually sort of been laying the ground work here. We've got a trip. I got to go to the NATO summit. When we get back, the dog will be in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: When did he get back? When was that? Oh, we expect him to break campaign promises, but this is ridiculous, Mr. President. That is back - the first pup as we know is still missing in action despite hearing about this dog since the campaign trail. The two most likely candidates still appeared to be a Chinese water dog and a Labradoodle.

CHETRY: Then it's a Portuguese water dog.

HOLMES: My bad. I don't know my dogs. OK.

CHETRY: Last we check, that's a little Portuguese water dog.

HOLMES: It's a Portuguese, there are Chinese water dogs? Is there such a thing?

CHETRY: There's a Chinese water dog for sure but (INAUDIBLE) Chinese water dog.

HOLMES: All right. No sign yet of any paw prints of Chinese, Portuguese, Siamese, or any other kind of dog at the White House.

CHETRY: You're going with the Labradoodle, I think.

HOLMES: I'm not a dog guy.

CHETRY: You're not a dog guy, a baby guy. We got to figure out what kind of guy is he?

HOLMES: I'm the news guy. How about that?

CHETRY: All right. That sounds good.

Well, dropping the F-bomb has a whole new meaning to the Obama administration and it's not what you think. We're going to explain coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HOLMES: They don't have good DJs around here. They got two turntables and a microphone working in the control booth. We had that going on because it goes in line with what we're talking about here.

Wiretapping, sounds kind of sneaky. It doesn't really sit well with a lot of folks. The Justice Department has now asked a federal judge in San Francisco to dismiss a lawsuit. It alleges the government engaged in illegal dragnet surveillance of America's phone calls and e-mails.

So why is the Obama administration using the same tactics as President Bush justify this surveillance? Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin helps us along.

Good morning to you, sir.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.

HOLMES: Is that fair to say that in fact the Obama administration is now doing the exact same thing, using the same reasoning that the Bush administration was using for the program?

TOOBIN: It is fair to say that. And, of course, the question is, we thought did Obama's campaign on new openness, change in terms of transparency.

HOLMES: Transparency, yes.

TOOBIN: But, you know, this is - this case is an example of the difference between campaigning and governing. When it comes to national security, which is what this case is about, governments, whether it's democratic or republican, are very reluctant to make any change that might disclose something that they don't want disclosed.

So, yes, it is true that Barack Obama changed say the freedom of information act policy, which he did have more openness. But that doesn't have anything to do with national security. When it comes to this subject, he's more like the Bush administration.

HOLMES: So you're telling me that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, may have the judiciary on their side, if you will, given that judges -- they don't want to mess with this stuff.

TOOBIN: Right. Judges sit there in their offices. They don't know - well, they're very worried about subjects that I don't have expertise in. National security and electronics surveillance is certainly only something that only specialists really understand. So judges very much defer to the government on these subjects. And unless there's some extraordinary circumstances, they, by and large, don't want any information like this released.

HOLMES: And the issue here is some of these customers, AT&T in particular. These customers are saying that some of the information was looked at illegally by the government. Well, to prove that case, the government would have to come forward and reveal how they're collecting this evidence. That's the heart of the matter.

TOOBIN: Right. This case goes back to the famous disclosure in "The New York Times" in 2005 of this enormous amount of electronic surveillance that was going on. Some customers have sued saying that policy was a violation of their rights and those cases are now starting to move through the courts. But they can't really move through the courts unless more information is disclosed. And the government is saying, throw the case out because we don't want to disclose this information. And that argument, so far, has been pretty successful.

HOLMES: You think it will be successful once again?

TOOBIN: I think these lawsuits are a real long shot. And also, the policy has now changed. Congress passed the law that put this program under some more judicial oversight so it's not the entirely warrantless wiretapping that it was when the time the disclosure was made in 2005.

HOLMES: And it's a big difference between being a candidate and being the president.

TOOBIN: That's right. That's where campaign promises go to die.

HOLMES: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, good to have you this morning.

TOOBIN: Nice to see you.

CHETRY: Well, can an expletive being dropped by some talk show hosts on President Obama. Does he deserve this kind of an F-bomb? We'll define it.

It's 43 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Forty-six minutes past the hour.

The F-word is being used to describe some of the Obama administration's policies, and it's not what you're thinking. This one has more to do with Mussolini, Stalin and salty language. Carol Costello has a vocabulary lesson for us this morning.

Hey, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It catches your attention though, doesn't?

CHETRY: The F-bomb, of course.

COSTELLO: The F-word, the F-bomb. Right? President Obama hasn't even wrapped up his first 100 days, but his harshest critics are singing the same tune, as "The Chronicle" describes it, they're dropping the F-bomb, as in "Fascism," whenever they can.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: This plan will require significant resources from the federal government.

COSTELLO (voice-over): That's the sound of big government. You would expect conservatives to compare the president and his economic rescue plan with maybe...

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A new deal for the American people.

COSTELLO: FDR and the new deal. But what's up with this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, hail Obama, Obama.

COSTELLO: Linking the president with the old communist Soviet national anthem? And this?

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: We're in to socialism now. Well that's not our final destination. Out final destination is happy face fascism.

COSTELLO: That's right. Fascism. The big F-bomb has been dropped by Beck and others.

Quinn Hillyer, writing in "The American Spectator," compares Obama's rescue plan to the economic policies of fascist Italy.

QUINN HILLYER, "THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR": It first started with the takeover of the banks. And when you start taking over banks, you've done the very first step that Mussolini did. And again, every time you centralize power in that way, you start to erode freedom.

COSTELLO: Liberals were quick to poke fun.

JON STEWART, TV TALK SHOW HOST: That's not tyranny, that's democracy. See, now you're in the minority. It's supposed to taste like a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

COSTELLO: All joking aside, one academic said conservatives are spooked by the intervention of President Obama and even of President Bush seeing it as a threat of the foundation of free market America.

GEORGE LAKOFF, UC BERKELEY: What it does is bring back all the old Reaganesque ideas about government being the problem, government interfering with your life, government taking away your freedom.

COSTELLO: The removal of General Motors' president was particularly upsetting to conservatives.

HILLYER: When you have the president of the United States in effect firing the head of a private company, you all of a sudden are no longer dealing a free enterprise.

COSTELLO: Which raises the question - how will any of this name calling play on Main Street?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: To say fascist, autocrat, communist, dictator, those are very extreme terms. Most Americans don't buy that.

COSTELLO: So far, at least, that's backed up by CNN's latest poll. 65 percent of all Americans say the increased government involvement in how businesses are run is just about right or could be increased. That's not likely to cool the conservative rhetoric.

SCHNEIDER: We have new media, new political media and they encourage a kind of extremist language. They encourage what I call apocalypticism and everyone you don't like becomes Hitler or Stalin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Apocalypticism, say that three times fast.

You know, often that extremists rhetoric generates big ratings on TV and on the radio and that translates into big money. Another reason to keep the rhetoric heated.

One more thing to keep in mind, some liberals were pretty harsh in describing President Bush in his policies. And it's not like some liberals aren't totally in love with President Obama's policies. Some have criticized them too but Kiran they haven't dropped the F-bomb.

CHETRY: Yet. We'll see.

All right. Carol Costello for us. Thanks.

HOLMES: Well, the president, on his first overseas trip as president, at the world stage, took it by storm, trying to reshape America's image in the world. The big question, did he really accomplish anything tangible? We'll ask a republican strategist, you know him, Ed Rollins. He is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: The American captain being held by pirates try to escape this morning, swimming away from a lifeboat where he is being held hostage. He was recaptured however by the pirate but reportedly he was not hurt. Somali pirates have been holding the captain hostage since the failed attempt to hijack his ship early this week.

Our Stephanie Elam is live outside Captain Richard Phillips home in Underhill, Vermont.

What has that town been like? A small, quiet little town, but I'm sure shaken up quite a bit by this.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely, T.J. When you look around the town, you can see that everyone here is definitely wishing for the safe return of Captain Richard Phillips.

We are standing right now in front of his home. And at this point, we do know that his wife Andrea Phillips is aware of the attempt here by the captain to get away from his captors. They say they are in constant contact with the authorities. They've been talking to the shipping company as well to find out the latest. They're saying that they are just monitoring the information as it comes out and also getting news reports on that as well. But definitely the family saying that they are on pins and needles at this point.

But we can definitely see an outpouring of support from the community here. Last night, close to midnight almost here, you could see neighbors, friends coming out with yellow ribbons and tying them along the fence, putting flowers up around the tree. Even some stores putting out yellow ribbons so that friends and family in the neighborhood could come along and take those ribbons to show their support.

HOLMES: Well, of course, we know everybody is trying to support the family and their captain at this time.

Stephanie Elam for us in the hometown of the captain still being held hostage. Stephanie, thank you so much. Good to see you this morning.

CHETRY: So are we turning the corner on the bad economy? We're going to see who says the recession is coming to a close and, best of all, there's a date attached.

And President Obama got a lot of smiles on his world tour but he didn't come back with everything he wanted from other allies. They like him, but do they respect him?

It's 54 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

We have some developing news for you involving your money and its giving people a reason to look up this morning meaning be happy.

Economists in "The Wall Street Journal" are predicting that the recession will end, that's right end in September. They don't expect unemployment to start going down though until 2010. We've called that a lagging indicator.

But the news that the economy is starting to turn around was something echoed by Larry Summers. He is a director of the White House economic council.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUMMERS: I think the sense of a ball falling off a table, which is what the economy has felt like since the middle of last -- since the middle of last fall. I think that is going to -- I think we can be reasonably confident that that's going to end within the next few months. And that you'll no longer have that sense of free fall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: All right. So joining us now is Christine Romans. She is breaking it down for us.

You analyzed this and talk to people, you know, in this field all day long. So, we're not out of the woods, yet?

ROMANS: Doesn't that sound exciting?

CHETRY: Yes.

ROMANS: I talked to economists all day long!

CHETRY: Well, it actually it's the story of our time right now.

ROMANS: Right. Right.

CHETRY: So, what are they saying about when we're out of this?

ROMANS: Well, "The Wall Street Journal" is trying to put an expiration date with this most recent - wouldn't you love to put an expiration date on the recession? They are saying September, the recession ends. Fifty-four economists surveyed by "The Wall Street Journal" finding that September is when the recession ends. And then, of course, the recovery begins after that.

The trick, though, is for you and me and everyone out there and what you feel, your personal economy, that is your job. For the jobs, no job recovery until the second half of 2010.

You know, you're going to likely see, right now, we have 8.5 percent unemployment rate and you're going to see maybe 9.5 percent, the average of these economists are saying. Other economists are saying it could get up to 10.5 percent.

A couple of Deutsche Bank economists who have been following for many years, they say if you have a bankruptcy in the auto industry you'll see 11.5 percent unemployment by sometime in the beginning or middle of next year.

So keep in mind, these are all forecasts and they depend on a lot of different things. These economists are optimistic about a couple of things. They are optimistic about the government efforts to try to get the credit going again, to heal the markets for small business lending and consumer lending and also 72 percent of the Treasury's plan to boost toxic assets will help the overall economy.

HOLMES: Jobs we know are key. And we hear so many tips, so much help out there for people. What do I do? Get another skill? Prop up my resume. All of this stuff. There's one key thing you can do that will help you tremendously and that is to have your college education.

ROMANS: You know, T.J., the number - when you look at the unemployment rates for people broken down by race and by job and by category, a person with a college degree, bachelor's or higher, the unemployment rate is 4.3 percent. A year ago, it was just two percent. So we know that these numbers are rising for everyone.

But a college education is something that is incredibly critical here. You look at other numbers, you break down for race and other categories, there are double-digit unemployment rates already for other people.

CHETRY: Catch-22 for the kids. They can't afford a college education right now.

ROMANS: I know, and that's why this is a big problem for policymakers. This is bigger than just getting out of a recession. This is a time to figure out how to fix some of these structural problems so that we can make sure that we can provide a quality education for everyone. That people have access to higher education and that is so incredible for people.

HOLMES: All right. Christine Romans, thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HOLMES: As always.